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papa osmubal
oscar balajadia ISN'T IT shameful or ridiculous that quite a good number of Kapampangan poets are said to be jockeying for position to be named the next Kapampangan Poet Laureate, despite the fact that we know poetry is all but dead—at least in Pampanga? Is not that a behavior we expect only from politicians? Is not that the behavior that put our country in the dark pit it is in now? It is as if corruption mutated into some kind of literary virus and has gotten into the veins of our poets and writers as well—when in fact they should be regarded as model citizens for their intellect, virtues and righteousness. Everything is getting dark in all aspects of the Filipino's life.

Many of us don't even know that Kapampangan literature exists and, yet, here we are surrounded by an army of poets laureate. I have gathered that we currently have 21 so-called poets laureate. Yes, you read it loud and clear—21. And again you read it loud and clear—laureates. I don't want to sound counterculture (I expect Kapampangan poets and their so-called laureates to call me such), but in all honesty, why on earth do we need laureates? Why 21 of them? And now, why elect some more? (I heard it through the grapevine that elections for the next batch of laureates are in the process).

One Kapampangan lingua-cultural activist I am acquainted with mockingly wrote to me, "Gewa rong tsa-tidwa beinti-singku reng laureado."

That is not a joke to me. It is a meaningful statement. Of course, it is an irony or hyperbole, or both (my friend is more of a poet than our so-called poets). Yes, I dare say, the exercise is worthless. I don't (and will never again) question the literary skills of our Kapampangan laureates. But with 21 laureates (and counting), you want to give up thinking that there will ever be a bright future for Kapampangan literature. What and who do these 21 or more Kapampangan laureates represent? Why do we care so much for a title? Why don't we just write and write and write the best we can to improve and enrich our literature and mend its damaged dignity? We haven't done anything really grand and meaningful for Kapampangan literature to deserve laureateship, in my book. We may write volumes or quantities yet we still fall short on quality. The arts and culture don't owe us anything. Doing what Kapampangan poets are doing right now is detrimental and fatal to Kapampangan literature. It makes writing and laureateship lose their dignified meaning and purpose.

Our Kapampangan poets are digging a pit full of mud and filth in which they will one day drown themselves. Laureateship does more harm than good to Kapampangan literature.

Why?

For a gazillion of reasons.

One. The bigger the population of the Kapampangan laureates grows, the more the title (laureateship) loses its honorific value that it is supposed to have. Like all other awards, it will soon lose its face value. What will you do with a title or honor that you get for 2 per 25 centavos? Exhume and harvest the explanation from mining—the more abundant the quantity of one particular mineral is, the less its value gets. That is why gold or diamonds are more expensive than sand. That explains what we have in our Kapampangan literature. We don't have gold or a diamond yet; we have but a lot of sand (that we hope, after a very long time, will turn into gold or diamond or something valuable). With the number of Kapampangan poets laureate, Pampanga can apply for the Guinness World Record for having "the most number of poets laureate in one place."

Two. Well-meaning poets and writers don't buy this "laureate" thingy, and I doubt it if they ever want to be crowned as Kapampangan laureates. Which means Kapampangan laureateship doesn't only lack nominal value and honor, but it is also devoid of intellectual significance. It doesn't mean that when a particular university facilitates and caters for or to the crowning of Kapampangan laureates the laureateship conferred can already be regarded as credible and intellectual. In fact, no one knows what this particular university gets from doing this.

Three. Considering the emotional and psychological conditions of our poets, we see another looming disaster which will in time spark the dissolution and negation of all Kapampangan literary efforts and initiatives. I am talking of "in-fighting". There would surely be bitter bickering and misunderstanding among the poets and writers involved—especially those who aspire to be named laureates in their respective camps. This entails division, from which come apathy, neglect, arguments, misunderstanding, and eventually in-group hostilities. There would be chaos within the so-called literary "core". (Well-meaning Kapampangan poets and writers are out of this, as they are not included in the so-called Kapampangan literary mainstream. Well, yes, it is the reverse in Pampanga, the well-intentioned people are the ones who are out of the core, making all things in Kapampangan literature look and sound absurd, dubious and ridiculous.)

I will not go on enumerating more reasons and their consequences, as there are so many of them.

I don't know how I can explain my feeling towards the individuals who write just for them to be crowned Kapampangan laureates. I call that a sin against the intellect and against the truth. I call that an outright corruption of the intellect and of the truth. If they don't get crowned laureates, what will happen to them? They will form their own group that will give them their much-yearned for laureateship. (We have so many Kapampangan literary groups that exist in names, but not as functioning bodies. The so-called nominal members of one are also the nominal members of the others—and I call them nominal members because they just exist as names, not as functioning members). Or worse, they might leave writing altogether. In the latter case, our literature loses a lot, more than what it bargained for, because we will end up with less Kapampangan writers—one less Kapampangan writer means one less Kapampangan reader. It is as simple as that. We are just starting—we write and we read what we write. From there, if our tribe grows, we attract people and they will follow us. That seems to be not happening because of the chaos and division caused by many a Kapampangan poet's dream of laureateship. We are about to lose the big fight because everybody wants to be a general. Everybody seems to prefer winning his/her own personal battle to winning the big war. We have more generals than soldiers (meaning: we have more poets laureate than poets).

If the crowning of laureates divides the writers and poets, what good does it give us? If it creates this chaos, this in-fighting and this division (which are detrimental to our overall Kapampangan culture), why continue doing it at all? Why not dismantle it? If (for personal ambitions and for lack of emotional stability) poets like to keep it, why not overhaul it? For sure they can conceive of something that will benefit and inspire a greater number of poets and writers. Create something that can for a while give them sweets, and when they are already calm and seem to be in their best and stable behavior, make them work. (I am a typical teacher.)

In exchanges I was having with one Kapampangan poetess, I read and gathered something that is not good for her, her writing and our Kapampangan literature. This is the poetess whom I bitterly criticized in one of my articles before. We briefly found reasons and opportunities to be friendly to each other (thanks to the wonders of the Internet, via email) until, recently, we were again drawn back to the dark and cold war zone, because I told her that her ambition (to get a laureateship) might blind her and damage her still-nascent literary skills. I was right through and through—obviously, she writes for an award. She just doesn't write for the sake of art and the culture. She finds writing as the surest and easiest way of getting an honor and accolade. She writes to become well-known and respected. This means that if she gets the laureateship that she craves for, her writing has already achieved its purpose. This is a wrong habit among our poets and writers. I just don't know why this became a traditional vice as it is now. It doesn't do our literature and culture any good.

Kapampangan laureateship can't educate our younger writers as much as it did not educate the older ones. The be-all and end-all of writing is not an award. Awards are results of fads—many of the award-giving bodies come and go, even those that are "time-tested" slowly lose their significance in our current context, literary or social.

Kapampangan laureateship corrupts Kapampangan literature. Laureateship makes Kapampangan literature more like a war zone or political arena rather than a creative and intellectual haven. Kapampangan laureateship corrupts truth, because we are not quite sure if the ones that get crowned laureates have what it takes to be poets and writers. We are not even quite sure of the intentions of those who give it and what competence they hold.

All things having been said, I respect and recognize the Kapampangan laureates—if we have genuine ones. A laureate is a genuine representative of the people if his/her work represents the brightest and most creative minds of his/her society. If not, then everything is just a corruption (of reality and truth), let alone tomfoolery and absurdity.

Also, one of the problems is that the term "poet laureate" is not the epithet one wants to attach to one's name these modern days. To be called a poet laureate is all obsolete. That is why our "laureates" have to always travel back in time to manifest that they are indeed "laureates"—picture them donning brass laurel leaves and blue or purple balabal (cape). I saw one photo of our laureates in which they are literally wearing those. This behavior damages their poetry and writing, in particular, and our provincial literature, in general. What they do is not literature; it is kitsch. Obviously this is not dignified; they make it look like a Halloween party.

I want to help save Kapampangan literature from total downfall and gross mockery. Kapampangan writers like awards? Yes, of course. Well, give it to them. But wrap it in or with a different wrapper—make it look modern, make it look new, and make it acceptable to the young writers or poets.

How?

The answer is in our character traits as a people. We are good at improving old things by giving them new names. That is a hardwired Kapampangan (or Filipino) skill—in our character, our trait. We can make that skill work to our advantage, for our literature.

How?

We have 21 laureates, and counting. That is no doubt a large number, almost the size of the population of the barangay in Magalang where I was born. It is surreal, but it is a fact that we need to force ourselves to live with. And because it is a tangible fact, we can't deny it. The damage and shame have already been done, and what Kapampangan poets and writers can do now is to fix it. That is, if all the so-called Kapampangan mainstream poets, their laureates, their ministers, their lakandiwas , their knights, their court magicians, their royal jesters, their royal escorts, (including their asses, horses and fire-breathing dragons) are ready to sacrifice their personal honorific titles for the benefit of modernizing Kapampangan literature. Let us use our hardwired skill (of giving new names to old things).

Alright, now what?

Instead of calling it "laureateship", call it by a modern name, say "fellowship". (No, not that weekly Sunday meeting at the church where you cry, embrace people, and when the crying is done, you dance!) Fellowship can have more rooms for the award-oriented and honor-thirsty Kapampangan poets and writers. Laureateship is too narrow, much more shallow.

I am addressing (and beseeching) the so-called mainstream Kapampangan poets (along with their laureates, ministers, muses, knights, asses and horses), to kindly put their brass laurel leaves in the dusty drawers, strip off their balabal (capes) and pick up the pen and the books. Make laureateship sound modern and intellectual. Call it "fellowship" instead, so that young people will stop laughing at them and at the congested and overpopulated "laureatedom" in which they live.

In this proposal, personal ambitions are all taken care of and tolerated. So, their King (Ari ning Parnaso or Olimpus or Apo or Arayat or whatever mountain—imaginary, real or man-made that he has his kingdom established on) will still be the "king". But (sorry, here comes the bitter part) he will not be called "The King" per se. But rather, he will be called Grand Fellow or Chancellor, if you will and if the King wants. Tell him that, being the Grand Fellow or Chancellor, he still has the power of a king and he still gets to keep the VIP coupons to grocery stores he frequents on weekends (again, minus the brass laurel leaves, the balabal or the cape, his knights and their asses and horses).

Obviously, the so-called Kapampangan laureates will not be called "laureates" anymore. They will be called "fellows". In which case, they should choose an intellectual name for their "Fellowship". Like "Academy of Kapampangan Arts and Letters" (AKAL) or something like it. See? That sounds good. In that way, they can honor not just Kapampangan poets, they can even confer honorary fellowship on anybody writing in Kapampangan (not just poetry), say "AKAL honorary fellow for Kapampangan women's writing", or "AKAL honorary fellow for Kapampangan students' writing", or "AKAL honorary fellow for leapfrog skills", and so on and so forth. It just so happens that the Grand Fellow is a poet (if we have one). See? And they can even confer honorary fellowship on Homer (my neighbor's dog).

In short, if getting rid of the brass laurel leaves and the balabal or the cape (along with the asses, horses and the fire-breathing dragons) is not a big deal, then changing "laureateship" to "fellowship" will be an intelligent first step towards modernity in Kapampangan literature.

If not, then let's giddy up all the way to the summit of Parnaso. One writer-friend of mine and I will surely join that medieval caravan. Call me then Don Quixote de la Mancha. And call my friend Sancho Panza.


[About the author. Papa Osmubal is Oscar Balajadia of Magalang (Well, don't get fooled by that name), now a Macau resident (Sorry, where?) and married to a Chinese local (How? How come? Why?). He has been a Catholic seminarian (OK, he once opened a book at an exam in Latin and Romance Languages—but who in frigging hell did not?), a Catholic missionary (Oh, the rosary is the answer to our country's economic problems and to your alcoholism and addiction to nicotine!), a bookstore staffer (Yes, sir, listen here, we know it is urgent, so your book is on its way from Guangzhou and will be here in 8 months!), a librarian (Oh, it's Friday the 13th and I am not putting 666 as Dewey call number on this bloody book!), and a teaching assistant (OK, pal, I know you prepared for the exams so I will check and mark them!). He is currently a teacher (yawn) and has an M.A. in English Studies (yawn even more, nod off, and then snore) from the University of Macau (sorry again, where?).]

-Posted: 9:25 AM 4/30/10 | More of this author on eK!
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